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How to Find God (in Six Not-So-Easy Steps)

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I regularly get emails from people who say that they've been seeking God, but haven't found him. They often express disappointment and frustration at the fact that once-promising spiritual journeys have now led to a dead end, and they want to know: "Is there anything else I can do?"

I'm not a spiritual director or a theologian, but I do have plenty of experience with spiritual dry spells and difficulties in the process of conversion, and I've spent a lot of time talking with wise people about common struggles in this department. While it's important to understand that any kind of powerful experiences of God are a gift, that there’s not some magic formula we can follow that will guarantee that we’ll receive a flood of consolation, there are certain things we can do to make more room in our hearts for God’s presence.

1. Seek humility first

If you feel stuck in your spiritual search, set aside the search for God per se and seek humility instead. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Pride is one of the most effective ways to block God out of our lives. Throw all your efforts into becoming a more humble person. For inspiration, read up on people throughout history who were known for their humility. If you’re not exactly sure what true humility involves, here's a great article that explains that humility is not the same thing as low self esteem or thinking that you’re bad.

2. Go on a cynicism fast

Commit to a period of time during which you’ll fast from all sources of cynicism: Give up watching TV shows and reading websites that make jokes at other people’s expense (even if it’s about celebrities or politicians); try to change the subject or say something positive if such conversations come up in person; avoid making cynical jokes or comments yourself. You might be surprised at how much this fast will transform your heart.

3. Read the great Christian authors

While a transformation of heart, a turning of the soul toward God, is the most critical step in opening ourselves to God, it’s also important to realize that seeking God does not mean setting aside logic and reason; quite the contrary is true. Asking tough questions and hearing what the great Christian thinkers have said on the matter will only bring you closer to God. Some authors I recommend are C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo.

4. Do the experiment

I believe that God’s existence can be “proven” in a certain sense, as long as you understand that God is Love, and what you’re trying to prove is Love itself. This is not something you can know about from analyzing data or reading books alone. To get the “proof” that you seek, you must enter the laboratory of your heart, and actually conduct the experiment: live, for a while, as if God did exist. Pray. Follow the Ten Commandments. Show love and kindness to everyone, even your enemies. Read the Bible. Give God the thanks and honor and respect you would show him if he did exist. As Pascal suggested, just try it for a while, and see what happens.

5. Pray frequently

This is by far the most important step. I know, you feel like you’re talking to yourself. You don’t see the point of it. I was there for a long, long time. But there is no substitution for humbly, regularly turning toward God with an open mind and an open heart. If you’re stuck for words, consider reciting something like the Prayer of St. Francis, or just pray, “God, I want to find you. Show me how. I’m listening.”

6. Be willing to lose it all

When I originally posted a version of this list at my personal blog a few years ago, it stopped at number five. Then I got an email from a wise reader, who suggested that I missed a sixth step. He wrote:

"There was one thing that was essential to my reversion that you do not mention. One must be willing to give up everything for God…I believe that the biggest problem people have with finding God is that they are not willing to give up earthly desires to find Him. People want the best of both worlds. They want a relationship with God and be able to hang on to worldly desires. I think this is all to often overlooked."

One of the things that’s different about seeking the truth about God as opposed to, say, seeking the truth about a mathematical equation, is that the truth about God is personal and transformative. If you’re seeking the truth about mass-energy equivalence and you discover that e=mc², it doesn’t mean anything for you personally. You don’t need to live your life any differently just because you now know that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. But not so with God. Because God is the source of all that is good, to know what God is is to know what Good is. And if you're not open to a new understanding of what is Good, then you're not really open to God.

The bottom line is this: seek, and you shall find. If you understand what it really means to seek (using both your mind and your heart); and if you understand that the finding part doesn’t necessarily happen immediately, that you’re beginning the long process of building a relationship that will continue to grow and change for the rest of your life, you will find God.
 
 
Originally posted at National Catholic Register.
(Image credit: Sustainable Nano)

Jennifer Fulwiler

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Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She's a contributor to the books The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion (Servant, 2011), and is writing a book based on her personal blog. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their six young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. Follow Jennifer on her blog, ConversionDiary.com, or on Twitter at @conversiondiary.

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  • Nick Cotta

    This is the place where the rubber meets the road in terms of belief and unbelief - there is no objective way for an individual to tell if they are truly trying this method. I can predict many future comments already: "I tried this my whole life and felt nothing and that is why I'm an atheist."
    It is why the author qualifies the steps with the fact that it is not foolproof. Why does God harden hearts? I think this our age's most intriguing question but this list is a great way to soften it.

    • David Nickol

      Why does God harden hearts?

      Why would the Christian God harden hearts? It would seem to be a most egregious violation of free will.

      • Nick Cotta

        It is a response to free will, not a violation of it. But it is still a mystery indeed when juxtaposed next to parables like the Prodigal Son.

        http://www.catholic.com/blog/trent-horn/why-did-god-harden-pharaohs-heart

        • David Nickol

          I do not find Trent Horn's argument at all convincing, but it has been discussed on Strange Notions before, and it seems to me it would be off topic to discuss it at any length in this thread. But briefly, he says,

          When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it is an easy mistake to assume that God did something to Pharaoh in order to cause Pharaoh’s heart to become stubborn and “hard.” But you can cause something to become hard just by leaving it alone, such as when bread is left out on the counter. It seems that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by removing what little presence of his grace that was in Pharaoh’s heart in the first place.

          Suppose the wife says to the husband, "The bread is hard and stale, and it's your fault." And the husband replies, "It's not my fault. I didn't cause it to get hard. I just left it out on the counter." If the husband left it out on the counter deliberately, so it would get hard, I don't see that he can make any excuse. Also Horn says, "It seems that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by removing what little presence of his grace that was in Pharaoh’s heart in the first place." It is not merely "leaving something alone" to remove what what is in it. Even if that grace was freely given, taking it back cannot be considered taking no action.

          • Nick Cotta

            You are right that removing the grace is an action and that is why I think the OT describes the act as "God hardening Pharaoh's heart", and thus why God would choose to do this is the mystery I talked about at first.
            I think the mystery is that God and his grace are not mechanical and we do not understand why he would give more at certain times - the key always is to remember that if wanted, it's always given - only sometimes it is given when not wanted (the true mystery).

          • David Nickol

            I think the solution in this particular case is to assume that God did not "harden Pharaoh's heart," realizing that it is extremely unlikely that the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the Exodus from Egypt is historical, and even if there is an element of history to it, the description of God "hardening Pharaoh's heart" is a religious or theological interpretation, not a factual account of God doing something to Pharaoh.

  • I tried the steps. Got to the end of them. No gods were found.*

    But that's just me. These steps may work for some people.

    But they don't just work for the Christian God. These steps can work for all kinds of things!

    Mormonism: The steps are very similar to what Mormons encourage non-Mormons to do, in order to discover that they have the one true church. That also works for some people and not others.

    Scientology: Scientologists work very hard to develop a clear and non-combative state of mind, in order to find their truth.

    Psychic Powers: Psychics often claim that their powers will not work unless certain similar kinds of steps are followed: live as though psychic powers work, try to use psychic powers, eventually you'll find that they work for you.

    If people want to believe in something really really hard, they'll find a way. We humans are remarkably innovative.

    *(Props to Nick Cotta for predicting this very comment)

    • Mike

      I am sorry you didn't "find" God; keep trying though, i would encourage you to continue on...you have nothing to lose!

      • I'm still here, aren't I? ;)

        • Mike

          that's a good point; look not that you care but i've never had anything even remotely like a religious experience; never heard voices BUT believe it or not i have had other effects after praying but things that you could "get" by meditation also i suppose or just by calming yourself down; either way even if totally false praying has had a number of positive effects on my ability to compose myself to handles stress to think clearer to be less impulsive to curtail bad habits and to foster good ones to be more "present" with my wife and kid...just overall good stuff in the traditional sense of good stuff.

        • Steven Miller

          When I finally decided that there must be a God it was because I needed Him to solve a person problem that no other power could. (To live a life based on Christian principles is actually VERY difficult without faith in God. For me it proved totally impossible.) After I committed to discovering His nature, it still took 7 years of reading religious and theological books--not just Christian ones--praying regularly, attending services, and discussing and meditating on these things before I finally came to some conclusions for myself. This last Easter Vigil, I joined the Catholic Church, was baptized, confirmed, received my first communion, and had my wedding blessed by the Church. What I love about RCIA is that it's not a high-pressure or a quick process. This article is actually a distillation of Jennifer Fulwiler's conversion. A more thorough version can be found in her book, Something Other Than God. If the purpose of this short life is to find God and conform our will to His, it's not an afternoon project. It's a whole life journey, and the Catechism tells us that what matters is the effort we put into it.

        • WhiteRock

          I think you're doing the right thing so far, Paul. Authentic faith requires reason, and God would not want you to abandon those faculties (as many might have you believe). In time, it may very well happen. At least you're in the right place ;)

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I had never thought to try the psychic angle, but whoa ... to my surprise, my psychic powers are AWESOME !!!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAcqFcRcHmM

    • Nick Cotta

      "If people want to believe in something really really hard, they'll find a way. We humans are remarkably innovative."

      The reverse is true as well.

      • David Nickol

        In these discussions, we often seem to talk as if people had some kind of ultimate control over what they believe. But that is far from true. I am a lot less impressed with Freudian psychology than I used to be, but I still think it is an incontrovertible fact that much of what goes on in the human mind is outside of consciousness and not subject to an individual's control. (I am not saying that behavior is outside of an individual's control, although in many cases it may very well be.)

        We may talk of people "fooling themselves," but what does that really mean? Self-deception, it seems to me, is not possible in a literal sense. If you have only one self, self-deception would require simultaneously knowing something and denying it. (The concept of each person having multiples selves is not without appeal.)

        I have a number of times reproduced the Scientific American review on Amazon of Cordelia Fine's A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. Here it is again:

        Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with others—more ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This "distorting prism" of selfknowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our "vain brain." Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflictless pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with "retroactive pessimism," insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of "selfhandicappers" concocts nonthreatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So "pigheaded" is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The "secretive" brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. "Never forget," Fine says, "that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets." So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves "to lessen the harmful effects of the brain’s various shams," she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. "Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge," Fine asserts. "They are the clinically depressed." Case in point.

        • Nick Cotta

          Funny enough, the end of that blurb touches on a central virtue both to this article and to Christianity: humility. While Jen notes that people tend to think of humility as "...low self esteem or thinking that you’re bad," she points to the true Christian definition really being the "correct perception of self." Maybe the only people left in our incredibly wealthy society (presumably where this study drew its conclusion on depressives being the most accurate) who have any correct sense of humility are the depressed (because their ego is not large enough to lie to protect anymore).
          What if Jesus has been telling us that reality (awareness/freedom) comes to only the humble? (I'd argue that's exactly what he did.)
          Furthermore, it is silly to speculate on the absence of free will because its absence can neither make or receive arguments. It is a fundamental truth that we can be deceived by ourselves, but also one that we can recognize that deception - this contradiction is more of a function of our being in space and time rather than an "outside" force that makes our decisions.

          • David Nickol

            It is a fundamental truth that we can be deceived by ourselves . . . .

            Self-deception might describe a real phenomenon, but it would be a misnomer. You can't deceive another without knowing the false information you are giving them is indeed false. So how can you deceive yourself without knowing the false information you are giving yourself is false? And if you know it is false, you are not deceived.

          • David Nickol

            Wikipedia has a few worthwhile comments on self-deception.

          • Nick Cotta

            Being deceived is more like "being led away from", not necessarily "not knowing" so you can be led away from the truth you know to be true, and you can be led away by your own will which merely desires falsehood.

          • Logike

            "So how can you deceive yourself without knowing the false information you are giving yourself is false?"

            --I think it's called "denial." It seems possible to know something too painful to want to call to consciousness. We know a lot of things stored in our memory--but not everything we know is conscious.

          • David Nickol

            If denial is an unconscious process, then a person cannot be held morally responsible for it. If you know you're in denial, then you are no longer in denial.

            If you are "fooling yourself" and you know it, then you aren't fooling yourself.

            I am saying that there is no such thing as "denial," but it can't be as simple as deciding not to know what you actually know.

            The human mind is very complex.

          • Logike

            Hmm. Yeah, if it is unconscious, it would closer resemble automatic repression, I think. "Denial," on the other hand, seems to indicate a stubborn refusal to act on something you consciously in the moment recognize to be true. And yes, one would be accountable for not acting. But I suppose you could choose to forget about what you know that is painful, which is why I originally said it was "unconscious." And I think that's what normal usage is referring to: the act of intentionally forgetting.

      • Absolutely. Just look at the way people react to climate change.

      • Mike

        Exactly ultimately it comes down to want YOU want to believe: seek and yee shall find: if you want no God you won't get God if you want God you'll find him; as pascal said there is just enough evidence for both; but everyone has to ask themselves personally what they really truly desire and then go after it.

    • Steven Dillon

      I think you've touched on a very deep explanation of why people tend toward religions, Paul. Religions offer a sort of meta-narrative that legitimizes root-level dispositions and beliefs, and this while providing one with a sense of community and purpose. But, I think folks are often uncomfortable admitting this, and compensate by emphasizing the apologetics they learned after the fact, when really, there's nothing wrong with embracing the conative nature of religion.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I mostly agree. Walker Percy said it well:

        Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

        ...

        I took it as an intolerable state of affairs to have found myself in this life and in this age, which is a disaster by any calculation, without demanding a gift commensurate with the offense. So I demanded it. No doubt other people feel differently.

        --Waker Percy

        • Steven Dillon

          How have I never heard of this guy? :P

        • Ignatius Reilly

          What exactly is the offense?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think that is probably the offense of being made to live a life that, among other things, included the suicide of his his father (at age 13) and the death of his mother in a car accident (possibly also a suicide). Add to that World War II and all the other stuff that that generation lived through, I would guess.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It seems odd that one would hope for a "gift commensurate with the offense" from the God who committed the original offense. Why would we not instead say As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport

  • David Nickol

    The assumption here is that to "find" God is to become a Christian believer. It's perfectly understandable why a Christian might assume that, but the question for me is, "Why would an atheist looking for God choose to subject himself or herself to a program of Christian self-indoctrination?"

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I agree. I think the post is good, compassionate advice for someone who has already dimly perceived that there is some essential truth at the core of Christianity and wants to come into greater contact with that truth. For those who do not perceive that there is anything at the heart of Christianity worth seeking, I think different advice would be needed.

      Personally, at that earlier stage I would tell a person not to look for God at all. I would recommend looking instead for people whose lives one admires. If those role models use the word "God" in talking about their lives, I would suggest trying to discern what the role models mean by the word. If the role models cite Christian scripture and tradition as foundational to their worldviews, I would suggest trying to learn more about how they relate to and interpret that scripture and tradition. If the role models could care less about Christianity, I would still suggest trying to learn from them.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think this is great advice, Jim.

        My own return to Christianity and then Catholicism was through realizing that the four person I admired the most in the world happened to be Christians and then through understanding that the reason I admired them had a great deal to do with their faith.

        That was an idiosyncratic first step for me.

      • Doug Shaver

        I think the post is good, compassionate advice for someone who has already dimly perceived that there is some essential truth at the core of Christianity and wants to come into greater contact with that truth.

        Maybe that's the rub. The more I study Christianity, the less truth I find in it. And I started studying it while I was still a believer.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          In that case I think you did the right thing by leaving, Doug. I have tremendous respect for that.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          My experience is exactly the opposite of yours.

          The more I study (and even more live) the Catholic faith, the more truth I find in it.

          And when I was an atheist, the Catholic faith was *last* on the list of expressions of religion I would consider. I think Zen was first.

          • Doug Shaver

            Obviously, those who say that anyone who wants to know whether Christianity is true only needs to study it, is mistaken.

          • Steven Miller

            Agreed. The spiritual life is not a theory--one must live it!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think this is a good point. However, in practice, if one is attracted to religion along these lines a person is going to first explore whatever is available. So, for example, if I lived in Utah or had Mormon acquaintances, I might naturally try Mormonism. If I lived in Saudi Arabia I would most likely turn to Islam. In Taiwan maybe animism and Confucius.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Exactly!

        There is nothing wrong with trusting the family and community one is born into. If nothing else, that community (usually) helps us stay alive into adulthood. Whether it is a Catholic community, or a Mormon community, or an agnostic community, that initial care for our being must count for something. At some level we all have to use our traditions as at least a starting point. For me, this includes a level of trust in the secular / agnostic culture that did plenty of good things to nurture me in my growth.

        At some point, there may be a question of whether it is possible to rationally reconcile one's native conscience, and native sense perceptions, and externally obtained knowledge, with one's tradition. Many cradle Christians find that reconciliation is impossible. Many cradle adherents of other traditions, including agnostic traditions, likewise find that reconciliation is not possible. At that point one may have to break with one's tradition. But until that point, I think it makes perfect sense to ride it out for as far as it will take you.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          But I think Jennifer's point about humility is very important. A healthy skepticism about one's own knowledge, understanding, and judgment is part of humility. I think it is easy to unconsciously begin with what one wants and then to find reason to rationalize this want. Of course, this cuts both ways.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          There is nothing wrong with trusting the family and community one is born into

          This is probably the greatest problem I have with religion - it is a dogmatic belief system, which controls its members and indoctrinates them to believe things they would not otherwise believe.

          Unquestioned dogmatic belief can be very bad. Most of the horrors man has perpetuated upon the world have been the result of totalitarianism combined with dogmatism. This includes things like Nazi Germany and radicalized Islam.
          On a smaller scale in the U.S., the religious tend to deny human rights to homosexual couples, deny the moral right of choice to women, and are generally required to vote along Catholic principles or else face hell
          .
          For religious belief people have: Given up everything they have owned, because they believed the end of the world is coming. Denied scientific facts like evolution and the age of the universe. Persecuted religious minorities, and even killed them. Burnt witches. Burnt Heretics.

          People have used God to justify: Suicidal bombings, murder, war, suppression of knowledge, and genocide. The God of the old testament does most of these things himself.

          Finally, only because of religion are we told that if we willingly disagree with our wonderful church, we will forever enjoy hell. We also tell this to children, so they don't disobey any of the commandments laid out by the church.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think it is clear from that last paragraph in my comment above that the trust in one's family and community tradition that I am advocating should not be a blind trust. You have to trust other things too, including your native intuitions about what is right and what is wrong. You have to ultimately reconcile the information from all the different sources that you trust, or else reject some of those sources. I am advocating the former, where possible.

            Note that you also are relying on received tradition in your comment. Unless you have personally done some primary historical research on these topics, all of your comments about Nazis and witches and radicalized Islam are based on a trust you have in certain Western (perhaps primarily American?) narratives that you have received from a journalistic and educational community that you trust at some level.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I feel like you are missing the real issue that I have. Catholicism is dogmatic and it can be rather Orwellian and even totalitarian.

            For instance, Catholics are required to vote against politicians that are pro-choice. Regardless of whether or not abortion is moral, should a religion exercise that type of authority?

            Note that you also are relying on received tradition in your comment. Unless you have personally done some primary historical research on these topics, all of your comments about Nazis and witches and radicalized Islam are based on a trust you have in certain Western (perhaps primarily American?) narratives that you have received from a journalistic and educational community that you trust at some level.

            However, these traditions do not have a conditioning apparatus that rewards faith and punishes disbelief.
            The evidence I have for my claims about Nazism, witches, and Islam is on a completely different plane than any evidence for the truth of Catholicism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Required? No.

            Catholics are required to assent to the teaching that abortion is intrinsically wrong. How that moral teaching should be translated into specific laws and voting preferences is another matter, a matter on which Catholics may legitimately disagree.

            Depending on the parish and the diocese, many Catholics are indeed encouraged by their bishops and/or their priests to vote a particular way on certain issues. None of that is a matter of official teaching. Catholics are free to dissent from those opinions without separating themselves from the Church.

            However, these traditions do not have a conditioning apparatus that rewards faith and punishes disbelief.

            I think they have exactly the same conditioning apparatus, namely social ostracization. Whether in the context of the Catholic community, or in the context of the American community (think of the opinion writers who opposed the Iraq war in the early days), or in the context of your local poker club, if you have the courage to dissent, you may well risk a degree of ostracization. If you have some internal fortitude, you stick up for what you believe and you accept the ostracization. That's just life, not something unique to Catholicism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Required? No.

            Catholics are required to assent to the teaching that abortion is intrinsically wrong. How that moral teaching should be translated into specific laws and voting preferences is another matter, a matter on which Catholics may legitimately disagree.

            Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became pope) said:

            A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

            So, if a Catholic voted for a candidate, because the candidate supported abortion that catholic would be excommunicated (Catholics who formally support abortion are excommunicated per the catechism). However, a Catholic could, on the principle of double effect, vote for a pro-choice candidate, as long as their was some overriding moral issues at stake. Of course, Catholics are taught that abortion is the greatest moral evil of our time, so the loophole for voting for pro-choice candidates is closed.

            Do you have any Catholics authority figures that support your claim that a catholic can vote for a pro-choice candidate all other issues being the same? A high ranking bishop, pope, or council?

            I think they have exactly the same conditioning apparatus, namely social ostracization.

            I take it you were not raised catholic (at least not in the Baltimore Catechism way). I can disagree with my social group about issues and not tell them, or I could find a new social group. Catholicism tells you that your doubt is sinful and that leaving the church is a ticket to hell. The Catholic church allows for non-catholics to go to heaven, however, those Catholics who were once in the church but left can only find salvation in the church. They were given the faith and trashed it. This is entirely different from social ostracization, and is more akin to brainwashing.

            Jim, I have a lot of respect for your opinions, and when I was Catholic (and were I to become catholic again) I believed (would believe) along your lines, although we would both probably be heretics. At least I was told I "dabbled in heresy" by catholic friends. However, I think you emphasize the good part about Catholicism, and forget the dark parts. I have never met a Catholic that when plied with a few drinks would not admit that a primary reason for staying Catholic was fear of hell. (Except for a few heretics who don't believe in such a place).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The Ratzinger quote that you already provided, together with the interpretation that you also provided, is sufficient justification for my claim. As you indicate, there are multiple issues to consider when evaluating any candidate, and multiple issues to consider in supporting any abortion-related law. You invoke a counter-factual: "all other issues being the same". When does that ever happen?

            There are a number of other specific points I want to disagree with, but let me jump to the crux of the matter:

            If you are claiming that I am heretical, the burden is on you to point me to a clear teaching that exposes my heresy. Very few the teachings within Catholicism are clearly dogmatically defined. The Creeds, I would say, but even those are open to substantial interpretation. I know some will accuse me of equivocating and obscuring legitimate boundaries. That is really not my goal. I think boundaries are necessary. I value boundaries. If I am violating a clear boundary of the Church, I want to know about it (but again, I want citations of dogma and a clear tradition of interpretation of that dogma, if that is what is being claimed). At the same time, nuance and subtlety are unavoidable. How could one possibly believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, an actual living organism, and at the same time believe that it is just a club with a bunch of check-the-box rules?

            I have never met a Catholic that when plied with a few drinks would not admit that a primary reason for staying Catholic was fear of hell.

            You have now. If it were possible, I would gladly give you the chance to get me hammered and put me to the test. I can absolutely guarantee you that my reasons for staying Catholic have nothing to do with hell. That doesn't even make any sense to me. If I stopped being Catholic, I would most likely cease to recognize hell as a reality, and then what sense would it make for me to be afraid of it?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The Ratzinger quote that you already provided, together with the interpretation that you also provided, is sufficient justification for my claim. As you indicate, there are multiple issues to consider when evaluating any candidate, and multiple issues to consider in supporting any abortion-related law.

            Could you name a scenario when that is the case? The catholic church would allow me to support a pro-abortion candidate, because there is an overriding issue.

            What if I rationally believe that first trimester abortions are moral, so I support politicians that favor the legality of first semester abortions over those that do not. This would get me excommunicated.

            What if I am a senator, and I believe the same thing using moral reason. This would also get me excommunicated ( at least according to Catholic teaching).

            If you are claiming that I am heretical, the burden is on you to point me to a clear teaching that exposes my heresy.

            I am not claiming you are a heretic. I do think there are Catholics that would call you a heretic. Your thinking is certainly unconventional, and I was just telling you that it resonates with me, more than the Catholicism that is usually preached. You are missing the point though.

            The point is here: Catholicism tells you that your doubt is sinful and that leaving the church is a ticket to hell. The Catholic church allows for non-catholics to go to heaven, however, those Catholics who were once in the church but left can only find salvation in the church. They were given the faith and trashed it. This is entirely different from social ostracization, and is more akin to brainwashing.

            For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowldege of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries-Hebrews 10:26-27

            Don't forget that the Church fathers almost unanimously agree that most souls actually go to hell.

            There is the Catholicism that is actively preached and is driven by various things, primarily among them fear and guilt. You have a "nice" version of Catholicism, but that is not the one that is taught by the Catholic Church. That is not the one that is taught to children. Think about the act of contrition:

            O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life

            Catholics are advised to examine their conscience daily and recite this prayer. Children are being conditioned to fear sin and doubt for fear of hell. This is how the faithful are kept faithful.

            If I stopped being Catholic, I would most likely cease to recognize hell as a reality, and then what sense would it make for me to be afraid of it?

            Suppose you were raised Catholic, but through your reason you have decided that the Church is in error in certain points or incorrect altogether. You would be advised to abandon your reason and have faith, and because the indoctrination is so strong you would still fear hell. Remember Pascal's wager - If there is a 1% chance of Catholicism being true, we should believe, because eternal punishment is a stern consequence.

            Regardless of what version of Catholicism is true, you have to recognize that the teachings that I outline exist, possibly have a plurality, and perhaps call into question the utility of religion.

            When I lived in The Republic of Niger, I had a friend who was very poor, from a different part of the country, and from a nomadic tribe that was looked down upon by the local farmers and the bourgeois in town. But, at the Islamic call to prayer, none of that mattered. He prayed with everyone else in town, side by side

            I suppose they were all Sunni. All in all, religion divides more than it unites. Jesus came to divide, did he not?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowldege of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries-Hebrews 10:26-27

            Yes, fine. Now tell me what that means. What does it mean to have "knowledge of the truth"? Does it mean you can recite what your Sunday School teacher taught you? That you can recite the Creed, or the Catechism? Or does "knowledge" in this case refer to intimate personal recognition (knowledge, in the biblical sense , as it were, this being a verse from the Bible). If you never had an intimate personal recognition of the truth of the Gospel, then you have no more knowledge of it than the lost tribes of the Amazon.

            I don't deny any of the teachings you cite, but interpretation is everything. We have also, of course: extra Ecclesiam nulla sales . I also accept this truth, but now tell me what it means. Lumen Gentium tells us that there is both a visible Church and and invisible Church. Who is truly in the Church?

            Not to put too fine a point on it, consider the priests who raped children. The official canon attributes these words to Jesus: "And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’" I can only conclude that those priests raped the Body of Christ. Is it possible that the Body of Christ could rape the Body of Christ? It seems more likely to me that those priests were not truly in the Church. I cannot know, of course (only God knows), but the signs seem pretty clear in this case. Conversely, many people who are not technically Christian do seem to reveal the living Christ. Are they in the Church? Only God knows the true boundaries of the living Christ. The rest of us are left to interpret the signs as best we can.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yes, fine. Now tell me what that means. What does it mean to have
            "knowledge of the truth"? Does it mean you can recite what your Sunday
            School teacher taught you? That you can recite the Creed, or the
            Catechism? Or does "knowledge" in this case refer to intimate personal
            recognition (knowledge, in the biblical sense , as it were, this
            being a verse from the Bible). If you never had an intimate personal
            recognition of the truth of the Gospel, then you have no more knowledge
            of it than the lost tribes of the Amazon.

            That's a nice theory, but that is not how it works in practice. You could be completely right in your interpretation, but as long as the interpretation that I have laid out is actively preached and likely dominate, we have reason to believe Catholicism lacks utility. I am criticizing the faith in practice, not the faith in theory. That is how we make utilitarian judgments. There is plenty of tradition that teaches that catholics who lapse burn.

            We have also, of course: extra Ecclesiam nulla sales

            A teaching which has been modified to fit modern sensibilities. Again, if there are people who teach a traditional version, we again can call into question the church's utility.

            I teach religious education to Junior High children, and I am a member
            of the Church. So, for better or for worse, my interpretation of Church
            teaching is indeed taught by the Church. I wish more "unconventional"
            Catholics would join me.

            Most definitely for better,

            I do my best to look honestly at the whole tradition and, recognizing
            that I am not a scholar of Church history, to give special (though not
            exclusive) weight to contemporary teaching, such as I have seen promoted
            Pope Francis and his recent predecessors.

            The problem here is that we have two different Catholicisms. Yours and the one that I rejected. You claim that you are not a heretic, but you also do not claim that the Catholicism that I rejected is heretical. Ii could certainly fit it into your large tent catholicism. I think that the the Catholicism that I speak of is immoral, contradictory to reason, and does real harm to its adherents. Why doesn't the church stand against these teachings? Perhaps centuries of tradition get in the way?

            Practically speaking, the Church indoctrinates its adherents though fear, knowledge reliance (matters of faith and morals),and group think. Why does something that is manifestly true need to be taught to children? I certainly didn't need to learn geometry at the age of 3 to believe it it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Since I haven't mentioned this yet, I want you to know that I appreciate the charitable nature of these exchanges we are having, notwithstanding our obvious differences.

            Not sure what level of geometry you have in mind, but I think you probably did need to learn geometry before you could believe in it. You may have naturally perceived the truth of geometric reasoning, but it still had to be taught to you.

            There are many important truths that don't come naturally to us. To take one example, think of the outlandish presumptuousness of referring to the transcendent source of all creation as "Father". To conceive of ultimate reality in such personal and loving terms does not come naturally to people. (Actually, I do believe it is ultimately "natural", but because we have all been compromised by the disfunction of the world, we need to re-learn "natural" behavior). The Lord's Prayer was something that was revealed, and has henceforth been taught.

            Think also of the crazy notion that material reality is so capable of goodness that ultimate goodness itself could be entirely enfleshed in it. Have all cultures of the world stumbled on this as a "natural" belief? To the best of my understanding, even great thinkers like Plato never came anywhere near that idea.

            Will try to respond to some of your other points later. Gotta run.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I also enjoy these exchanges. Our differences probably aren't as wide as we may imagine.

            Not sure what level of geometry you have in mind, but I think you
            probably did need to learn geometry before you could believe in it. You
            may have naturally perceived the truth of geometric reasoning, but it
            still had to be taught to you.

            I meant to reference the age at which something is learned. Certainly, it is good to learn mathematics at a young age, but whether or not I believe mathematics is true is age independent. I did not come to an understanding of proof based mathematics till college. I took geometry in high school, but I did not pay much attention. When I finished linear algebra, I was not at all competent in proof based mathematics. However, after a difficult semester of Analysis, Number Theory, and Probability I was able to recognize good proofs and find flaws in bad proofs, as well as construct my own. Obviously, I could not do deep mathematics, but my understanding of mathematical reasoning was much much greater than 16 weeks prior.

            With Catholicism, it seems that it is usually necessary to teach the truths to young children. I would believe that all differentiable functions are continuous, whether I learned that at 10 or 80. I can demonstrate it. However, if I had first come to religion as a freshman in college, it is unlikely that I leave college catholic. Moreover, a freshman that is raised catholic is more likely to stay catholic than an irreligious student become catholic.

            Of course, it is interesting that certain mathematical/logical principals are essentially self-evident. I could not imagine both P and ~P being true. I'd have to think about it, but I am not sure I know why I know deductive logic works. Its also not something i have studied extensively though.

            I will comment later on the other part of your post.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you are probably right regarding my acceptance of "two different Catholicisms". I have to guess a little bit and read between the lines, but I probably would not claim that the Catholicism that you rejected was heretical. However, I might well claim that the language and emphases that were used to communicate the faith to you were no longer appropriate or effective in the world in which you and I grew up.

            A more defensive and insular Catholicism may have made some sense for a period in history where there was massive social change and uncertainty, where people were still learning how to maintain a sense of identity in a pluralistic society. I don't know. In any event, I don't think that approach makes sense now, at least not in the culture that I live in.

            How can we arrive at a good understanding of Catholicism in the cultural contexts of our present age? This is where I think it helps to have living teaching authorities, such as Pope Francis. Not that those authorities can be followed blindly, but they certainly can help.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But the two "different Catholicisms" seem vastly different. On one hand we have the teaching that almost everyone goes to hell, including those who lapse, and then we have the Catholicism, in which, we can be reasonably certain that everyone is saved.

            We have a Catholicism that emphasizes doctrine, guilt, and sin, compared to a Catholicism that emphasizes the primacy of reason, beauty (there is an interesting book by Greeley about this), and love. To me the first Catholicism should not only be rejected, but Catholics who hold to the latter Catholicism should fight the "traditionalists" at every turn.

            However, I might well claim that the language and emphases that were used to communicate the faith to you were no longer appropriate or effective in the world in which you and I grew up.

            I would consider them to be immoral. If God exists and Christ is his son, I would hope to conclude that those teachings were gross misunderstandings of Jesus's message.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To me the first Catholicism should not only be rejected, but Catholics who hold to the latter Catholicism should fight the "traditionalists" at every turn.

            We may part ways on this point. It depends on what you are talking about, I guess.

            I certainly have no patience for anyone who would use tradition as a cudgel to browbeat others into conformity, but I don't think that's a good way to understand the traditional impulse in general. Traditionalists have a lot of good impulses. They are right to insist that we properly anchor our understanding of the faith with the texts of our tradition, that we not create a Catholicism of our own imagining, that we not blithely assume that we are in accord with the true Church just because we are following our intuitions about "what seems right". They are right to insist that we not gloss over the reality of sin.

            If you had fruity people like me running the Church, engaging in all sorts of speculative theology and talking about nothing but grace and human goodness, we'd be off building another Tower of Babel in no time. I fully appreciate that the flighty impulses of people like me need to be moderated by a broad and diverse community. It takes all kinds. I won't shut up just to appease my more conservative brethren, but I don't want them to go away either. The arguments, when respectful, are good.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We may part ways on this point. It depends on what you are talking about, I guess.

            I think indoctrination is essential to the traditional view; just like indoctrination is necessary for totalitarianism. The traditionalists emphasis sin and hell, guilt, and tradition over individual reason. These are not good impulses, but corruptions of good impulses.

            We can recognize that we are not always good and that we can improve our character, without becoming completely focused on sin and guilt. We can recognize the wisdom of our ancestors, without worshiping at their graves.

            that we not create a Catholicism of our own imagining,

            Perhaps this is what God would want. We are all different individuals made uniquely by him. This seems to fit the facts better than the authoritarian traditionalist church.

            If you had fruity people like me running the Church, engaging in all sorts of speculative theology and talking about nothing but grace and human goodness, we'd be off building another Tower of Babel in no time

            Again, perhaps that is what God wants. It's not a tower of Babylon but a City of God. If God exists and is personal, he clearly wants us to be responsible for making the world a better place. It's not hubris to build "towers to the sky" but our destiny. In any notion of God that I would have, he definitely wants us to strive against all odds like the Viking mythos. I don't see how any rational conception of God jives with traditional Catholicism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You have a "nice" version of Catholicism,

            I do my best to look honestly at the whole tradition and, recognizing that I am not a scholar of Church history, to give special (though not exclusive) weight to contemporary teaching, such as I have seen promoted Pope Francis and his recent predecessors. If and when those teachers promote something that does not seem to be in continuity with scripture and tradition as I understand it, I balk. That can happen, but it doesn't happen too often. At the end of the day, I hope that what I end up with is neither "nice" nor "not nice", but rather that it reveals the living Christ.

            but that is not the one that is taught by the Catholic Church. That is not the one that is taught to children.

            I teach religious education to Junior High children, and I am a member of the Church. So, for better or for worse, my interpretation of Church teaching is indeed taught by the Church. I wish more "unconventional" Catholics would join me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Another thing. The Catholicism that I talk about is espoused by EWTN, Relevant Radio (Fr Carapi anyone?), Crisis magazine, and almost every major Catholic outlet. When judging the utility of Catholicism, we should judge the Catholicism that is promulgating, not its existential step brother.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            National Catholic Reporter?
            America Magazine?
            Commonweal?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not familiar enough with America Magazine to make a judgment. I'm sure most orthodox Catholics would accuse the Commonweal of rank heresy.

            I was often told that reading something like the Commonweal was more poisonous than reading say David Hume. The writers of Commonweal are were like wolves in sheep clothing, leading good Catholics astray.

            Point taken though. There are liberal catholic outlets. However, if one is taught by orthodox teachers, such outlets are condemned. People who are indoctrinated don't necessarily feel free to read say commonwealth, and our instead encouraged to stick with the traditional outlets.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I just don't accept your use of the word "orthodox". You are equating the fussy conservatism of the people who taught you with "orthodoxy". I don't doubt that they passed themselves off as the voice of orthodoxy (and I don't doubt that they believed that themselves), but in this day and age where everyone has internet access and can quickly search the catechism and other Church documents, there is no reason to put up with that nonsense.

            Search the catechism for David Hume, or Commoweal, and you will find nothing. You may well find many heretical and even nonsensical arguments if you read Commonweal (I don't read it regularly, so I don't really have an opinion; I do have a vague memory of reading some things that I thought were pretty silly at one point.), but you can judge that for yourself.

            Don't let the knuckleheads of the world claim your tradition from you. It is your tradition. If you believe in it in any way that you can honestly reconcile with real official orthodoxy, then my advice is illegitimi non carborundum .

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I just don't accept your use of the word "orthodox". You are equating the fussy conservatism of the people who taught you with "orthodoxy". I don't doubt that they passed themselves off as the voice of orthodoxy (and I don't doubt that they believed that themselves), but in this day and age where everyone has internet access and can quickly search the catechism and other Church documents, there is no reason to put up with that nonsense.

            I am making that equivocation. I'll call them traditionalists instead. Honestly, I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church lends it self to a traditionalist interpretation, more so than any other. At my traditional high school we spent a year studying the book and gleaning all sorts of traditional wisdom from it. I don't think you understand how effective the indoctrination is. Anytime a author disagrees with the "traditionalist" interpretation, it is pointed out that humans can make mistakes, this particular theologian is not a saint or even worse a heretic, and that the magisterium is the final and "all-knowing" word on faith and morals. Of course, the magisterium is in line with the traditional view. Most encyclicals are in line with the traditional view. Sure there may be a little wiggle room, but it is taught that leaving mother church would cast doubt on the future of your immortal soul.

            I wish right thinking catholics would emphatically and vocally reject this sort of hooey.

            Search the catechism for David Hume, or Commoweal, and you will find nothing. You may well find many heretical and even nonsensical arguments if you read Commonweal (I don't read it regularly, so I don't really have an opinion; I do have a vague memory of reading some things that I thought were pretty silly at one point.), but you can judge that for yourself

            Except some lines about deliberately encouraging doubt. Regardless, the traditionalists would be trying to distract you with interesting claims like:

            Not only will premarital sex condemn you to hell, but it will bind your soul to that person, make you unable to experience love, and devils will follow you around. Yep kids, don't think you can do it and confess it, because those devils will follow you around.

            All forms of rock lead can bring one under the influence of the devil. And don't read those Harry Potter books.

            And why don't catholics ever call this guy out:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriele_Amorth

            Don't let the knuckleheads of the world claim your tradition from you. It is your tradition. If you believe in it in any way that you can honestly reconcile with real official orthodoxy, then my advice is illegitimi non carborundum .

            I probably have read more than I should have, but there are multiple traditions that I can claim. There is the tradition of very scary stories (40 dreams of John Bosco come to mind) and the tradition of beauty.

            It does seem that the Church would be a better place, if the Catholics that rejected the traditional view were a little more vocal about their rejection.

            If I were religious, I doubt I could reconcile my beliefs with real official orthodoxy. Are there any orthodox beliefs that you ascribe to that you would not otherwise believe on the basis of reason?

          • Logike

            Well articulated. You described the exact reason why I left the Church recently (after becoming catholic 10 years prior). I realized I was indoctrinated with that deeply neurotic mental map you describe, inspired by fear, which was causing me a lot of undeserved pain. For years I knew some things the Church taught were false, but I was in denial about it for some time because that meme had me in such a grip. Thank the true God I left.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Anytime a author disagrees with the "traditionalist" interpretation, it is pointed out that humans can make mistakes, this particular theologian is not a saint or even worse a heretic, and that the magisterium is the final and "all-knowing" word on faith and morals.

            It is indeed a deep and sad irony that the virtue of humility is often preached most loudly by those who are cocksure that they can identify the valid authorities and textual interpretations to which a humble person should defer. It would be very funny if it didn't have such tragic consequences. As I'm sure you realize now, those people who taught you about humility had no real understanding of what humility is.

            You are right that I never suffered through the type of indoctrination you did when I was a child. I was perhaps fortunate that I was never compelled to think much about Catholicism until I was an adult and was equipped with the modicum of confidence and wisdom that it takes to dismiss foolish arguments. I can see how it must have sucked for you. I don't blame you for leaving the Church.

            Many teachers, even well intentioned ones, push too much too early, and they push it without a good understanding of the subject matter or the audience. That's wrong. I try to call that out when I see it. I can't control everything though. It's not my job to fix everything that is wrong with the world. All I can do is discern the few little things that I think God is calling me to do, and respond with integrity to those humble little callings. I believe that God will work out the other stuff in his own good time.

            It's been nice chatting with you. I'm going to try to take a break for a while.

          • Logike

            Ok, I'm now (pathetically) a personal fan. Well done!!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Thanks! The feeling is mutual.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Edit: Also religion creates unnecessary social groups. It divides the human race which leads to war.

            It also removes many social barriers.

            When I lived in The Republic of Niger, I had a friend who was very poor, from a different part of the country, and from a nomadic tribe that was looked down upon by the local farmers and the bourgeois in town. But, at the Islamic call to prayer, none of that mattered. He prayed with everyone else in town, side by side. (Well, OK, it was just the men, but this was still progress relative to the pre-Islamic tribal way of life ...). They all respected him as a fellow Muslim. They were all one before Allah. It was beautiful.

          • Paul Lopez Tito

            "Catholics are required to vote against politicians that are pro-choice."

            I am a Filipino and a Catholic. The Philippines consists of more than 80% Catholics, the most numerous in Southeast Asia. We are NOT required to vote against politicians who are pro-choice, in fact Senate(most of whom are Catholics) already passed the Reproductive Health Bill here which is Pro-choice.

            I am the only Catholic in my wife's family, all of them are Baha'is. Filipino families are very closely knitted so you will find it normal to even stay with your parents even if you already have your own family. For 10 years now, I have been with my wife's family who aren't Christians and Religion was never a problem with our relationship.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am a Filipino and a Catholic. The Philippines consists of more than 80% Catholics, the most numerous in Southeast Asia. We are NOT required to vote against politicians who are pro-choice, in fact Senate(most of whom are Catholics) already passed the Reproductive Health Bill here which is Pro-choice.

            See my response to Jim above. Is there a church document that supports your position?

          • Nick Cotta

            This is from the Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Public Life (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20021124_politica_en.html)

            "It is not the Church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person. It is, however, the Church’s right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You have a bad link. My guess is that the document is talking about ordinary political situations, such as elections, prison sentences, tax policy, trade policy etc. Abortion is not an ordinary political solution. Being formally complicit in an abortion is de facto excommunication. The passage I cited indicates that voting for a pro-choice candidate can be considered formal.

            So, can a politician vote for a bill that allows abortion and remain catholic?

          • David Nickol

            So, can a politician vote for a bill that allows abortion and remain catholic?

            Some time ago, in the dotCommonweal forum, I raised the question of voting for abortion in a discussion about whether bishops should "crack down" on Catholic politicians and warn them that if they continue, they will be excluded from communion. Father Komonchak, one of the official contributors to the site, commented:

            That abortion is an evil is one proposition. That it should be prohibited by civil law is another. That it should be prohibited in all cases and under all situations is another. That it should be prohibited under the present circumstances of U.S. society and culture is still another. How a Catholic should judge and act with regard to these last questions, whether as a private citizen or as a public office-holder, are prudential judgments, and I do not myself think that judgments involved in this degree of contingency should be considered grounds for excluding people from Holy Communion. Most U.S. bishops would seem to agree.

            Some conservative Catholics make what are, in my opinion, very oversimplified arguments about voting. It seems to me Cardinal Ratzinger's comment, if carefully interpreted, is a good starting point:

            A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia.

            If a Catholic believes that abortion is a good thing and ought to be promoted, then he or she is seriously at odds with the Church. However, suppose a Catholic believes that legally prohibiting abortion will ultimately result in more abortions rather than fewer abortions. (There is some evidence to support this.) Would the Catholic Church really maintain that what the law says is actually more important than what the law does? I think that would be a difficult argument to make.

            The objections of the Catholic Church to abortion and cooperation with abortion are very ancient, but the act of casting a vote in a pluralistic democracy is very new, and there is no well developed Catholic moral theology of voting. Voting as a private citizen is a very personal act, and I don't think it is possible for moral theologians to do more than outline general principles that individuals ought to follow. Except in very extreme cases, I think it is impossible (and wrong) for moral "authorities" to say a person must vote against a particular candidate or a particular proposition. The possible beliefs and motives of the voter are far too numerous and too private for "authorities" to weigh and then declare that everyone is morally bound to vote one way under pain of sin.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If a Catholic believes that abortion is a good thing and ought to be
            promoted, then he or she is seriously at odds with the Church.

            Does anybody actually think it is a good thing?

            I am not convinced that one can reason that abortion is wrong in all cases. When I was catholic, I would have preferred to vote for politicians who would make exceptions for: first trimester abortions, to save the life of mother, rape, incest, and for the well-being of the mother. I would also have preferred to not vote my faith onto the general public. (i.e. I believed on the basis of Catholic doctrine that abortion was almost always wrong, but moral reason did not lead me to that conclusion).

            When I explained that position to catholic friends, I was told that I was incorrect and perhaps heretical, as well as sinning.

          • Nick Cotta

            I fixed the link (me thinks). The passage you cited is one prominent theologian; many Catholics would agree with him and are among the clergy/orthodoxy, etc, but even this does not make what they say dogma of the Church.
            There could be extremely wide latitude in the case of "proportion", especially in the United States where abortion is protected by a legal precedent set by the Supreme Court and to get it changed can be argued to be disproportionate to almost anything.
            There have been many people with many extreme positions who have been denounced as heretics still not excommunicated. It takes quite the public offense to be excommunicated and to talk of excommunication the way you have is to skew the practice or how actionable we think dogmatic "deviance" is. Look at how often we excommunicate and for what.
            Also: ultimately your objection is just an anarchist position. No group could have any laws that disallow any behaviors because it would violate an individual's conscience. Are you upset at the United States for willfully forcing people to believe murder is wrong or pay their taxes? A God that is good and has a clear communication about the consequences of striving for the good versus striving for evil will always upset people who believe in absolute autonomy.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I fixed the link (me thinks). The passage you cited is one prominent theologian; many Catholics would agree with him and are among the clergy/orthodoxy, etc, but even this does not make what they say dogma of the Church.

            Please define dogma and give examples of things that are dogmatic and not. I am no longer sure what anyone means when they talk about dogma.

            There have been many people with many extreme positions who have been denounced as heretics still not excommunicated. It takes quite the public offense to be excommunicated and to talk of excommunication the way you have is to skew the practice or how actionable we think dogmatic "deviance" is. Look at how often we excommunicate and for what.

            Formal cooperation in an abortion results in excommunication is a catholic teaching.

            Consider this thought experiment. We live in a country in which abortion is illegal. The citizens vote on a referendum to legalize abortion in the first trimester. Could a catholic vote yes to that referendum and be free of moral guilt?

            No group could have any laws that disallow any behaviors because it would violate an individual's conscience. Are you upset at the United States for willfully forcing people to believe murder is wrong or pay their taxes?

            As far as I know, religion is the only place where we have thought crimes. The United States doesn't force anybody to believe that murder is wrong; it simply punishes it for utilitarian and intuitive reasons. Reasons that do not follow in the case of early term abortion, contraception, or gay marriage.

            A God that is good and has a clear communication about the consequences of striving for the good versus striving for evil will always upset people who believe in absolute autonomy.

            You begged the question on the nature of God. Assumed that their would be consequences and assumed that God would not prefer the autonomy of the individual verses blind obedience to medieval doctrines. We should as why a good God would extend the consequences to all of eternity.

          • Nick Cotta

            Here's a good breakdown:

            http://jimmyakin.com/dogma-doctrine-and-theology-what-are-they

            The real point of contention though is that you say the Church cannot say it knows something for sure and then require it of the faithful to be part of the faithful. This is because you think of the Church like a group that has rules, of which you must follow to be included. This is not the Church's meaning - it is more like this: the Church is here to articulate the truth of God and you can follow or not follow, but if you don't follow, you're not in the Church because that's what the Church is. People in general (maybe you) just don't believe the Church is telling the truth or that their motive is to tell the Church - most think of it as an institution that has a little fib to tell to control others. If you don't believe that the Church is telling the truth, of course you would say, "I can't be a part of a Church that makes you believe in X" but if it's the truth, you would have no problem with it. If you call yourself a scientist, but don't believe in gravity and protest science for its rigid requirement of belief in gravity, then you are simply not a scientist. The Church works the same way - the main disagreement is never in how the Church operates, but whether it is telling the truth or not because let's face it, the Church has almost no actual power to do anything to any of its congregants who disobey, and of what little it does have, it uses infinitesimally.

            I do make some assumptions when making statements about God: we are not God, God is a being, etc. I think it logically follows that what God is we would strive to emulate which also implies that the created world is not God and there would be alternatives to strive for except God. We can argue back and forth between us about our assumptions on logic on everything I guess. Really, it's good because this is where your real issue lies: what is God and what does he want? If you disagree with Catholics on this question, you're going to disagree on how they operate.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The real point of contention though is that you say the Church cannot say it knows something for sure and then require it of the faithful to be part of the faithful. This is because you think of the Church like a group that has rules, of which you must follow to be included. This is not the Church's meaning - it is more like this: the Church is here to articulate the truth of God and you can follow or not follow, but if you don't follow, you're not in the Church because that's what the Church is.

            Yes, but once introduced to the knowledge of the
            Church, one no longer has the freedom to reject it. Because he who commits apostasy burns.

            the Church has almost no actual power to do anything to any of its congregants who disobey, and of what little it does have, it uses infinitesimally.

            Brainwashing and fear of hell.

            what is God and what does he want? If you disagree with Catholics on this question, you're going to disagree on how they operate

            I'm not sure. He may not exist. If he did, I think he would place great value on individual autonomy and striving against all odds - like in Viking myth. I cannot philosophically define a God that would be immune to self-contradiction. All I can say is that any God that I could realistically believe in, would not be particularly pleased with the Catholic Church.

          • Paul Lopez Tito

            I don't need a church document to support my position.

            Your statement regarding "required to vote against" implies bloc voting, and Catholics here in the Philippines don't do that; you state it as if it is an absolute requirement. The right to vote is not a church law, it's a state law so the Church cannot dictate anyone whom he or she will vote.

            & I haven't heard any news in my country regarding politicians who passed a pro-choice bill have been excommunicated or an individual has been excommunicated because he vote a pro-choice politician.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't need a church document to support my position.

            Yes you do. We are talking about Church law, not what happened in a particular case.

            Your statement regarding "required to vote against" implies bloc voting, and Catholics here in the Philippines don't do that; you state it as if it is an absolute requirement.

            No, it doesn't imply bloc voting. Nice straw man. Besides, Catholics do things that are against church teaching all of the time that does not mean that the church doesn't teach that say contraception is wrong.

            The right to vote is not a church law, it's a state law so the Church cannot dictate anyone whom he or she will vote.

            The right to vote is a state law, but that does not stop the church from telling the faithful how they should vote. I'm not sure what you mean by "cannot dictate". If you mean that they do not have the authority to dictate, then I agree with you, but that is another question from whether or not they claim to have the authority.

            I haven't heard any news in my country regarding politicians who passed a pro-choice bill have been excommunicated or an individual has been excommunicated because he vote a pro-choice politician.

            That doesn't change the fact that the church teaches that formal cooperation in abortion is de facto excommunication. They don't need to formally excommunicate - that is not how it works. If you drove someone to an abortion clinic, you would be excommunicated till you went to confession and confessed your excommunicable offense. That is what canon law says. The pope is not going to make a pronouncement.

    • Phil

      Hey David,

      Why would an atheist looking for God choose to subject himself or herself to a program of Christian self-indoctrination?"

      This makes it sound like when one is searching for God, specifically through the steps that a Christian might propose, that reason and the intellect has to be checked at the door. As Jennifer wrote, this is exactly the opposite. One searches with an open mind but with reason completely intact. We don't run towards indoctrinating oneself but in search of discovering the truth of reality.

      I can tell you that a true "extraordinary" experience of God is near impossible to deny. The reason being is that we realize right away it is more real than the world around us. I like to say there are three levels of reality, a "dreamlike" reality, the real world, and then the supernatural (i.e., heaven, God, etc).

      After we wake up from a dream, or after being under the influence of a drug, most can easily sense that this it wasnot real because of how it differs in experience from daily living. When one experiences God, for me this has been especially in times of prayer where God decides to grant a small "favor" or "grace", after that moment of infusion of grace we realize that this experience is more real than the experience of daily life. We realize this is what the human heart is longing for! It is near impossible to describe this in words, though many saints have done so with success.

      • David Nickol

        This makes it sound like when one is searching for God, specifically through the steps that a Christian might propose, that reason and the intellect has to be checked at the door. As Jennifer wrote, this is exactly the opposite.

        Jennifer Fulwiler wrote the following:

        . . . seeking God does not mean setting aside logic and reason; quite the contrary is true. Asking tough questions and hearing what the great Christian thinkers have said on the matter will only bring you closer to God.

        It is perfectly understandable that a Christian would suggest such a thing—feeling she already has the truth, others are looking for it, and she knows where it is. But she doesn't merely recommend asking tough questions, she recommends "asking tough questions and hearing what the great Christian thinkers have said on the matter." The whole approach she recommends is to immerse yourself in Christianity. That is self-indoctrination. If she recommended taking a month and immersing yourself in Christianity, taking another month and immersing yourself in Judaism, taking another month and immersing yourself in Islam (Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, and so on), I wouldn't call it self-indoctrination. But she seems to be saying if you just persist in Christianity, you will "find God."

        Don't forget that a number of us commenting on this site as atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and so on have had religious backgrounds and educations. I went to Catholic school for 12 years and received a very solid Catholic education. I was taught religion not merely in religion class, but in geography, history, and any other subject where it could be included. I learned to read from Catholic readers—the "Faith and Freedom" series—which was not just indoctrination in the Catholic faith but in American patriotism as well. I went to Mass every school day for eight years in elementary school. Given the decline of Catholic education, I probably have spent more hours in religious instruction and more hours in church than the average American Catholic does in a lifetime. So I think it should not be too difficult to understand why I might look askance at the suggestion to immerse oneself in Christianity.

      • Mila

        "I can tell you that a true "extraordinary" experience of God is near impossible to deny"
        This is such truth. I always ask God, why me? Why did he choose to give me such an extraordinary experience and not the others?
        I see so many people struggling and doubting with little faith or no faith at all and I wonder why was I given such faith and not others? I wish everyone would experience what I experience.

        • Phil

          Amen! And that is ultimately what must drive our love of others and our desire to share Jesus with others. These intimate encounters of God are not purely for us, or for us to somehow lord it over others. Obviously this would be pride.

          We must have that fire in our hearts brought about by our experience of God and our desire that every person we meet would know how much they are loved and what glory the human person is made for. God did not make us for suffering; he made us for the most pure joy and peace that only comes from loving others with God's love. So it is God that does all the work in and through us!

          And I will always witness to the fact that it is our beloved Mother Mary who is the ordinary means to union with Jesus. She forms us in the love of God most easily and quickly. How sweet she makes all the trials of life! If only we would begin to promote this fact that so many saints have known, God would transform the world through her Immaculate heart, since that is what he desires to do at this point in history!

          Oh Woman Clothed with the Sun, Come quick to our aid!

    • Mike

      bc they want to find god, wasn't that obvious?

  • Mike

    BTW "real" humility, step 1, means a real effort not a pretend effort and then a snarky comment on a blog that you really really tried but got nothing zip zilch zero.

    Also there's a reason the church says virtues need to be practiced; they are habits that we should all try to get into; this implies there is no "magic" "revelation" but a slow process of "growing" towards a relationship with Christ via listening to your conscience and then by forming it by effort and by reference to the church's teachings.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Follow the Ten Commandments.

    So anyone who curses their mother or father should be put to death? Let's round up those teenagers!
    The bible tells us to do some very horrible things. Are we supposed to suspend our moral reason to find the Christian God?

    • Hacky Duck

      Agreed. The God of the Bible would not be worthy of worship even if he could be proven to exist.

      • WhiteRock

        There is a lot of Dawkins et. al in these comments. A clear misunderstanding is present; much of the Bible is a historical and cultural reference to the time it was written in, so that needs to be taken into huge consideration. If you read it 100% literally, of course you're going to have problems.

        • Hacky Duck

          You have problems even if you don't read it 100% literally. Namely, that God either really did or really didn't command the deaths of babies in 1 Samuel 15:3. If he really did, then he's a monster. If he really didn't, then what else is the Bible wrong about?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And if he didn't, what are we supposed to learn from it? Or are there parts that just got put in the book by accident.

          • WhiteRock

            You have problems when you approach the Bible without any understanding of hermeneutics, so allow me to lend my aid.

            Again, read it with 100% understanding of culture and ancient events leading up to it matter significantly, primarily the role of the people of Israel. I get it - verse 3 is particularly troubling yes? Not only does God apparently order the killing of children but He punishes Saul for not finishing the job.

            But since the Bible is about interpretation of a divine message, this entire verse has been analyzed to be, partially, about obedience to God. Furthermore, the literal meaning of this story, in addition to the message of obedience, would be the prophetic message contained within it. We actually don't know if this event actually happened, and considering that we don't, only makes the messaging more clear. According to the legends of ancient Israel, Amalek had was more than just "a nation" but it represented something large, it the enemies of God’s people & evil (you can find this in Exodus 17). Thus, Amalek opposes Isreal's journey when God is attempting to lead them out of slavery.
            Consider it this way: when you think about the "300 story" of the Persians vs the Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae, you are probably right to think there weren’t *exactly* 300 Spartans or tens of thousands Persians. But it held a strong message, which is the point. Ultimately, the story of 1 Sam 15 is a prophetic symbol of the history of ancient Israel; it displays the enemies of Israel. It declares that evil must be destroyed. And if it isn't, and we keep evil within ourselves, it will destroy us.

            Hope that helps.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Ultimately, the story of 1 Sam 15 is a prophetic symbol of the history of ancient Israel; it displays the enemies of Israel. It declares that evil must be destroyed. And if it isn't, and we keep evil within ourselves, it will destroy us.

            So we should put evil-doers to death?
            I feel like an inspired book would give such a moral in a different light, lest the verses are misinterpreted.
            So you do deny that the event ever happened?

          • WhiteRock

            Considering the time and culture that this occurred in, death as form of punishment wasn't much of a stretch.

            There's nothing to deny here. What we do know is a) the evidence of the "lead up" to this story (as I said, there is reference in Exodus) & b) the message that came out of it (which, if you missed, was not "put evil doers to death 100% of the time or else") is simply obey God and destroy evil, in whatever form it is. And the inspired book does tell how to destroy evil, and here's a hint, it's not with murder.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm going to assume an all-powerful God.

            Considering the time and culture that this occurred in, death as form of punishment wasn't much of a stretch

            So the best an all-powerful God can do is genocide?

            And the inspired book does tell how to destroy evil, and here's a hint, it's not with murder.

            How do we destroy evil then? Why didn't God do it in the case in question?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Also, how does not knowing whether or not something actually happened make the message more clear? I would think the opposite would be the case.

            We actually don't know if this event actually happened, and considering that we don't, only makes the messaging more clear.

          • Hacky Duck

            So did it really happen or not? If it did, I'd be interested to know how you can be okay with that. If it didn't, I'd be interested to know how you can tell what really happened and what really didn't happen. I mean, did God really kill Ananias and Sapphira for lying? Can inconvenient New Testament passages be allegorized as well?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Explain this little verse:

          At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses[b] and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.[c] “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

          So God sends Moses off to rescue is people, but on the way, God wants to kill Moses, because Moses did not circumcise his son. What wisdom am I to take from that verse?

          • WhiteRock

            The interesting thing about your question is that you can very easily find the answer you seek if you looked at credible sources. IE: not scientists who comment on things that are outside of the proper purview of their respective professions or social commentators without the slightest idea of Catholic theology. Since you're on a Catholics & Atheist dialogue site, my first suggestion is look at Catholic sources. After you truly seek, then we can discuss it. Deal? :)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I went to Catholic K-12, Catholics University, and Catholic graduate school. I have read many of the authors that you would consider important to answering these questions. If you think there is a particular book that I should read, I am open to suggestions.
            That being said, I have never understood that verse. If you can give an explanation, I would like to hear it.

  • IGWT

    Here is one way to find God...
    .....True story of a commercial airline pilot who declared himself to be an atheist. He was only 42 years of age. One dreadful day, he suffered a massive heart attack while soaring at 30,000 ft in altitude. Luckily there was a co-pilot and no passengers were in imminent peril. The pilot is placed in the rear of the plane on oxygen and for the next hour or so, he ponders if each agonizing breath will be his last. With each subsequent breath, he reflects upon and finds God. The plane lands, he seeks medical attention and he survives. He has since devoted his life over to a more spiritual path. I think it is easy to forget that life is a gift and easy to dismiss God. Intellectual ruminations can take one only so far in their belief.

    • Gray Striker

      Intellectual ruminations can take one only so far</blockquote<

      I can agree with that....As interesting and entertaining as many of the philosophical arguments about the concept of god may be, I don't think anyone can "reason" their way to the "god" of Christianity or any other "god".

    • mriehm

      True story: in the first and second world wars, millions of people of all faiths prayed for their lives, and yet they perished. We do not hear their stories.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Nor do we ask where Hitler's anti-Semitism had its origin.

        • WhiteRock

          Pray tell, where did it come from? Let me guess. The myth that he was a practicing Catholic and thus it had to have come from there, right? Actually, it came directly from his over-zealous response to Germany's struggle in WWI. It was a political move, not a religious one. There's plenty of evidence that proves he, like many of those as personality of cults do, used religion to appeal to his masses. That's it. Simple.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Without the hundreds of years of Christian anti-Semitism justified by the bible, I doubt Hitler would have found his audience so pliable.

            There's plenty of evidence that proves he, like many of those as personality of cults do, used religion to appeal to his masses

            So religion can be very dangerous?

          • Gray Striker

            So religion can be very dangerous?

            Unquestionably so.There is no denying that this can be true.

            First of all I don't think that Hitler was a practicing Catholic in his adulthood....but we all know that our religious indoctrination as children can and does have a big influence on our lives....there can be no doubt that he was infulenced in his thinking because of indoctrination. The negative catholic bias definitely had a bad influence on him, and the sooner the Catholic Church admits to that...the better.....instead of always trying to distance themselves from their negative effects of history. In the case of Hitler, the most influence on him....however...I do believe was mostly to do with
            politics....not personal religious beliefs.

            In his day, blatant bias against the "perfidious" Jews was the norm in many levels of society....not saying that it was even remotely justified anywhere. Admittedly, In great measure it was sponsored by the two major religions of Germany, and other parts of the world...Catholicism and Lutheranism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If religion can be dangerous, should we reject utilitarian arguments? Should we not also reject arguments that lead us on a program of self-indoctrination? Especially, when religion has caused otherwise good people to do horrible things.

            With regard to Hitler, I think you are still downplaying how fertile an environment Christianity created for the Holocaust.

    • Here is a true story of how to be an atheist. Be born into a religious family, have your moments of doubt, but decide to devote your life to the study and worship of Jesus. Become a pastor or priest and gain a loving community and family of other true believers.

      Continue to study and look at atheist arguments against God. Fail to be able to justify your beliefs and after years of prayer and trying to hear God's voice, admit you no longer believe.

      Actually it is the story of over 600 people and counting. Clergyproject.org

      • "Actually it is the story of over 600 people and counting. Clergyproject.org"

        600 people out of more than 600,000 clergy serving in various denominations in the United States (The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches )? That's just 0.1%.

        It's also worth noting that, at least from what I've seen, most of the participants in this small website movement come from Fundamentalist Protestant or liberal Protestant (Anglican, progressive mainline, etc.) denominations. I've yet to see more than a couple "former" Catholic priests.

        In fact, there are over 55,000 ordained Catholic clergy in America, and thousands more throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. Just counting America, ClergyProject.org represents less than 0.009% of ordained Catholic clergy.

        The story you presented is therefore not at all typical. It's a very extreme aberration and statistically insignificant--nothing more.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          600 people out of more than 600,000 clergy serving in various denominations in the United States (The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches )? That's just 0.1%.

          I highly doubt that every clergy member that leaves or is disaffected reports it on Clergy watch. The ones that do are probably a very small percentage of the disaffected clergy.

          The story you presented is therefore not at all typical. It's a very extreme aberration and statistically insignificant--nothing more.

          We don't know whether or not it is an extreme aberration. It is not a study, and was not meant to be. It is an anecdote held up against another anecdote. Just because someone found God using the 6-step system or by having a heart attack does not mean that those are reliable ways of finding God or that those who follow the 6-step system could not become atheists. BGA's post demonstrates that the 6-step system could lead to atheism.

          The problem with the 6-step system is that any religion or god that you find can easily be explained psychologically. Therefore, we have no reason to believe that it is true, and moreover, we have good reason to believe that it is more along the lines of indoctrination. Since, the 6-step experiment does not necessarily lead to truth (we have no reason to believe it does), and in fact leads to outcomes that cause unhappiness, a good case could be made that advocating the 6-step system is immoral.

          For instance, I could tell people that in order to find God, they need to humbly look for him in my church, give up all of their possessions, leave their job, and come live in a commune. (Early Christians often did something very similar.) Any honest seekers of truth, who did as outlined above, are clearly subjecting themselves to indoctrination.

          • "The problem with the 6-step system is that any religion or god that you find can easily be explained psychologically."

            On one level, sure. But so can any belief or lack of belief, including atheism! Yet I'm confident you wouldn't reject atheism because of psychological explanations.

            If belief in God is false because you describe that belief in psychological terms, then atheism is false because you can describe that non-belief in the same terms.

            But I think we would both agree this is absurd. Therefore, neither of us would really hold your claim to be true.

            "Therefore, we have no reason to believe that it is true..."

            We have many, many reasons to believe Christianity is true from the historical evidence for the Resurrection, to Christians' personal experience of the Risen Christ, to the existence of the Church, etc.

            "...and moreover, we have good reason to believe that it is more along the lines of indoctrination."

            I don't think we do.

            "a good case could be made that advocating the 6-step system is immoral."

            Objectively immoral or just subjectively immoral? Because objective morals depend on a transcendent ground, which Christianity has in God but which atheism lacks.

            "For instance, I could tell people that in order to find God, they need to humbly look for him in my church, give up all of their possessions, leave their job, and come live in a commune. (Early Christians often did something very similar.) Any honest seekers of truth, who did as outlined above, are clearly subjecting themselves to indoctrination."

            I'm curious how you define "indoctrination." If you're using the word properly, to mean "teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically," then your last sentence is demonstrably false.

            Go read the writings of any of the earliest Christians--including Paul and the Church Fathers. They did not accept the Christian claims uncritically.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If belief in God is false because you describe that belief in psychological terms, then atheism is false because you can describe that non-belief in the same terms.

            But I think we would both agree this is absurd. Therefore, neither of us would really hold your claim to be true.

            I am not saying that a belief that can be explained psychologically is necessarily false. I agree that would be an absurd contention. My point is that the 6-step method is not a demonstration of the existence of God - that is what the psychology bit is about.

            My argument is that:

            Premise 1: The 6-step method does not lead to truth, as it can lead to contradictory states of belief.

            Premise 2: Some religions or groups within religions indoctrinate

            Premise 3: Religion can cause great unhappiness

            Premise 4: A method that does not lead to truth, may lead to indoctrination, and may cause unhappiness should not be followed.

            Conclusion: The 6-step method should be abandoned.

            I would of course submit that Catholicism is part of premise 2 and 3.

            Do you reject all of these premises? My psychological argument only deals with premise 1.

            We have many, many reasons to believe Christianity is true from the historical evidence for the Resurrection, to Christians' personal experience of the Risen Christ, to the existence of the Church, etc.

            I don't accept the historical evidence for the Resurrection as actual evidence. If I did accept the historical evidence, I would be a Christian, but the Christianity I would espouse would be different from the notions taught by the Catholic Church.

            Christians' experience with Christ can certainly be explained psychologically.

            I'm not sure how the existence of the Church implies that Christianity is true.

            Objectively immoral or just subjectively immoral? Because objective morals depend on a transcendent ground of morality, which Christianity has in God, who is the Good, but which atheism lacks.

            Objectively, I am only an atheist with regard to the Judeo-Christian God. I also do not agree that objective morality requires a ground of all being. Regardless, if I was Christian, I would find indoctrination to be immoral.

            I'm curious how you define "indoctrination." If you're using the word properly, to mean "teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically," then your last sentence is demonstrably false.

            From Wikipedia: Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology.

            The catholic church does this through fear, repetition, and promoting doctrine over individual reason. The church gives rationalizations for its doctrines, but that is not the same thing as teaching someone to examine doctrine critically.

            If you are talking about early Christians, then yes, they lived a communal existence. This is before the major Church Fathers.

            Go read the writings of any of the earliest Christians--including Paul and the Church Fathers. They did not accept Christian claims uncritically. They were some of the most critical thinkers in the Western tradition.

            I have. With the exception of Augustine, I would not put them in the pantheon of great critical thinkers. Don't forget that Origen and Turtullian are considered heretics. Their critical thinking was rejected. Could you perhaps explain why you consider them to be great critical thinkers?

        • I am not suggesting it is typical for clergy or representative. Of course the project has only been running a few years and most of the members of strictly confidential.

          Of course this pretty much is the typical deconversion story. Many prominent non-believers, Matt Dillahunty, Seth Andrews, Bart Erhman for example started on their paths to atheism trying to defend Christianity.

          But the clergy project, I would say, is good evidence of non-resistant unbeleivers. These 600 have not only studied, and prayed at length, they fervently believed and devoted their lives to Christ. So much so that they genuinely feel they would have no life if they left. I would say that they have tried Ms Fulwiler's experiment and if a God exists he is not in any kind of a relationship with them.

          Are you suggetstimg they also need to make sure they become

          • Cont. catholic too? I wouldn't think so, CS Lewis was never catholic, notwithstanding his close association with Catholic writers.

            If you would like a Catholic example, check out Carolyn Hyppolite's journey. Surely if we are to fully consider the testimony of people who through study and prayer were drawn to convert, we should consider the testimony of those for who this did not work at all.

      • IGWT

        Well... Brian..no doubt that people of both sides of the aisle struggle or grapple with their faith. Perhaps even you. I don't think you would participate in discussion forums like this unless you were looking for some idea to give you a reason to change your perspective. What thoughts, gurgling up from our deep unconscious for no one else to witness, await us on our last dying breath?

        • I certainly do not grapple with anything I call faith. I participate in fora like this because I a very concerned that good, otherwise reasonable people hold what appear to me to be extremely unreasonable and evidently wrong opinions about what they consider the most important issues in their lives. I come here because I find these issues drive families and friends apart and support discriminatory and dangerous behaviour on issues like birth control, abortion, homosexuality, war, science education and so on.

          I am also open to change as I am sure you are. But I am seeking a God in as much as you might be seeking that Bigfoot or Nessie are real.

          I can't know what issues are gurgling. But I can tell you that my experience with Catholicism has been very positive. It seems to have brought great comfort to some of my family and I take great pleasure in learning about the history, art, and architecture connected with your church.

  • Gray Striker

    1. Seek humility first

    The basic requirement of humility is to treat all persons with dignity and respect, even those who are seemingly not deserving of such....as no one can plumb the depths of another person's pain and angst, and why they may be the way they are.

    2. Go on a cynicism fast.

    No one can doubt the benefit of a positive attitude on a personal level, and the effect that is has on others in the vicinity.Good point.....we should all do this, and take a break from texting and twitter......most of the activity there is banal chatter and prurient gossip anyway.

    3. Read the great Christian authors

    While this is good advice....but there are many authors from Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and other traditions worth reading as well, and they too attempt to lead individuals toward "god" as they perceive "him" to be.

    5. Pray frequently.

    "pray", meditate, silent contemplation, etc. In my humble opinion, the "prayer" that would be most pleasing in the eyes of "god" should he exist, would be self sacrifice on behalf of others.

    6. Be willing to lose it all

    This is where self sacrifice on behalf of others comes into the picture in a serious way, as the greatest form of prayer. Not many are prepared to do this in reality. People such as Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela Ghandi and a host of others. There are all the other unamed persons among the poor who toiled and sacrificed everything for family and neighbors, who will remain unknown and unrecognized.

  • WhiteRock

    #7: Ask your friends to pray for you. We could all use help in the journey.

  • Kimberly Jones

    God is not love. Love does not command or perform mass murder, as the Bible describes him doing.

    • Mike

      Are you an atheist?

    • Gray Striker

      Perhaps in cases of the more objectionable parts of the OT: having to do
      with genocide, even Christians have to consider that perhaps "god" was
      not actually speaking to the prophets in these instances, but that the
      prophets were just expressing their own biases toward their perceived
      enemies of the time and were interpreting their own inner voices,
      biases and inclinations as the voice of god. I mean really.....the idea
      has to be given due consideration, even by Christians.

      http://primalillusion.blogspot.ca/

      • BTS

        In other words, they were lousy prophets?

  • Peter

    For the above to work you need faith. Faith can be built from reason. If your mind accepts the likelihood of a benign Creator, faith in a loving God can spring from that.

    Every day more and more evidence is presented of a universe teeming with life, most recently of organisms on the international space station or captured in the stratosphere.

    If we do live in a wonderfully fertile universe, so impossibly fine-tuned for life from its inception, then this is evidence of a bountiful Creator who designed the universe as such, even to the point of allowing it to create itself through naturalistic means.

  • This post is good evidence of the admission of hiddeness of God, but not an explanation of it, nor is that it's purpose obviously. What it also seems to be is a call to self-indoctrinate. Repeatedly pray and follow the religion and eventually you will believe.

    What I don't get is why the very existence of God is so hidden? He that parted the Red Sea, burned a shining beacon of fire. Darkened the world and saw to it that thousands of Portuguese witnessed a miracle requires constant praying, study and adherence to (some) of the rules he laid down millennia ago, before he will reveal his bare existence to me?

    It just isn't plausible, what am I missing? Why does it take so much effort?

    • Ignatius Reilly

      It just isn't plausible, what am I missing? Why does it take so much effort?

      Because the Christian God does not exist.

      • Logike

        You had me laughing with the bluntness of that remark as a response to divine hiddenness.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I like to think it is a logical explanation.

          • Logike

            I agree.

    • a_theist

      what am I missing?
      Perhaps that this post is not about the existence or otherwise of God, but about a personal response to recognising that God exists.
      Recognising that God exists is quite separate from deciding what to do about it once the realisation is there. The suggestions in the post are but one possible religious response, there are others.

      • I get that but this website "is the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists". If the piece is directed at those who already believe God exists, I think its reprinting here is misplaced.

        Otherwise, I guess the answer to the question of how to find God is to believe in him already and then worship and study him and maybe he will get in touch. Or he may continue to act like he doesn't exist.

        • a_theist

          the answer to the question of how to find God is to believe in him already and then worship and study him and maybe ...

          there would be little point in worship and study if one did not already believe.

          A thought - is worship required? Is worship perhaps only a human religious response? Reading what is recorded of Christ's teaching I don't really think worship was in the top 5 messages.

  • Logike

    I was baptized Roman Catholic 10 years ago and pretty devout too. But I lost my faith last year. I had objections to official Church teaching I could not rationalize away any longer. So I quit being another apologetic lackey.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Did you ascribe to any religion before Catholicism?

      • Logike

        I did not, but I had some philosophical background that led me to it at the time. I felt a connection to Merton's and Augustine's stories. My reasons for joining were only partly right. But lovers don't always see clearly in love. And then the orthodoxy started to stifle my inquires . . . I try my best now not to "throw the baby out with the bath water," so to speak, but it's not always clear where to draw that line.

  • Alleluia! Beautifully said Jennifer. It reminds me of my own conversion from Sikh to Catholic back in 2003, which I wrote about in one chapter of the book, 'Canadian Converts' by Justin Press. What you have said perfectly describes the relationship between faith and reason. When I was going through my conversion, I realized that my own intelligence could only take me so far, and I knew there was so much I didn't know that was there for me to know (and to love), but I had to accept that my own intelligence wasn't enough to get me there (humility), and I had to 'step off the cliff' and take the proverbial leap of faith into the domain of FAITH. Then, a whole new world opened up.

    Unless you believe, you will not understand.
    -- Isaiah 7:9

    Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.
    -- St. Augustine

  • michael

    Jennifer Fulwiler is a sycophantic bootlicker who says diaper changing is the greatest thing that's ever happened to her.

    • David Nickol

      What's the point of this nasty personal attack on the author of a post from five years ago? What do you think you are accomplishing here?

      • Phil Tanny

        If this was a forum, we could start a thread dedicated to the rather relevant topic of the emotional ego engine fueling all sites such as this.

        • Phil Tanny

          As example, such phenomena tend to reveal how human activities are so often composed of multiple levels.

          As example, on philosophy type sites the cover story is that the process is intellectual, when the real story underneath the cover story is that the driving force behind most of the typing is ego and emotion.

          To test this claim, we could remove all names and screen names from all the posts so that authorship would be totally anonymous.

          • Phil Tanny

            BEGIN TROLLING>>But we'll never do that experiment, because we're a bunch of little sissies who are terrified of revealing the emotional agendas driving this website. <<END TROLLING

      • michael

        Criticizing her with point.